Transcript of Press Conference - Tarin Kot, Afghanistan
SUN 14 OCTOBER 2012
Tarin Kot, Afghanistan
PM: I’ve just had an opportunity to spend some time with our troops here in Afghanistan. I’ve been in Afghanistan today for two reasons. Firstly I wanted to say a big thank you to our troops for everything that they’re doing in such difficult circumstances.
We have experienced many loses, there’s been a lot of heart-ache. But talking to the troops today, morale is good and that is a real tribute to them.
The second reason I came to Afghanistan today is we are in the process of transition in Uruzgan province. This is part of the NATO-ISAF strategy for Afghanistan. Around Afghanistan provinces and areas are moving into transition and what that means is that Afghan local forces are increasingly stepping up to provide security for their nation.
As we move through transition, as the nation moves through transition, as we implement the agreed strategy at the NATO-ISAF level, I wanted to check progress here locally in Tarin Kot, but also with General Allen the Commander of the NATO-ISAF mission, and I also want to speak to President Karzai about how he is seeing progress.
All in all, the reports I’ve had from General Allen, the reports from President Karzai, his perspective, is that progress is being made and that the nation is on track for security leadership to be handed over at the end of 2014 as the deadline was agreed at the NATO-ISAF level.
Now that means that there is still hard work to do but here for our troops, we will increasingly see, as we move through transition, our troops no longer engaging in partnered operations but moving to an advising and assisting role.
Already in terms of the troops we train, there is one section of those troops ready to operate independently. And we anticipate that the troops we train will be able operate independently by the end of this year.
I’m happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What assurances did you get from President Karzai today about the transition, about governance and transparency?
PM: I spoke to President Karzai about our concern about insider attacks and sought an assurance from him that everything that can be done is being done.
He spoke to me about the steps being taken by Afghan forces to deal with insider attacks. I also raised that issue with the Governor of Uruzgan province where our troops were.
Clearly these have been tragic and disturbing incidents. They are designed to corrode morale and everything needs to be done on the Afghan side to deal with the possibility of insider attacks, and so I spoke about that.
I also spoke about the need for Australia and the international community generally, to be assured that the efforts here in aid and development are hitting the ground and are not being taken by corrupt practices. I raised that with President Karzai, I raised that with the Governor here in Uruzgan and we will continue to raise the need for accountability.
There was an accountability framework agreed when donors met in Tokyo. President Karzai has issued an anti-corruption decree and we will continue to speak out for the need for transparency and progress in governments here in Afghanistan.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there’s been a couple of pessimistic accounts in the last little while from the International Crisis Group and also the Red Cross about both the political outlook and security outlook. Do you feel that from the briefings you’ve received that they are being too pessimistic?
PM: From the briefings I’ve received, I’ve been very clearly told that the mission we defined for ourselves is on track and when I say we defined for ourselves, I mean NATO and ISAF.
We are here with a coalition of forces. We work under an agreed strategy and so what we are doing here in Uruzgan province is part of that strategy.
And so from General Allen, he indicated to me he believed that the mission was on track. He pointed out that there are still two years in front of the mission for getting the Afghan National Army and national police fully up to speed. That’s two fighting seasons in which they will increasingly be operating independently.
The assessment here in Uruzgan province is that what we are doing here is also on track.
Now Afghanistan is a very poor country. It’s a country which has been racked by war. It is a country that therefore needs a great deal of assistance and development work and I’ve made it very clear that we will be involved in Afghanistan beyond 2014 in the NATO train, advise, assist mission; we’ve left the door open of the possibility for a continuing role for special forces and we have signed an aid and development partnership with Afghanistan for the long term.
JOURANLIST: Prime Minister, the Australian Government always used to say there would be a conditions-based withdrawal but isn’t it really now at deadline-based withdrawal?
PM: Conditions were assessed when NATO-ISAF met and dealt with the current strategy and the end of 2014 was the identified date from President Karzai who obviously had a vision about when his country would be able to step up its own security leadership.
JOURANALIST: And Australia’s taken the lead in this province very shortly in terms of security responsibility for the US. What does that mean for the forces here on the ground and for the Government?
PM: Well we have worked every step of the way in combined arrangements here with coalition forces. It’s actually a very unique structure where we are working with forces from other countries and integrated into the same team are aid and development workers.
So the work that’s needed to overcome poverty and build governments is working alongside what we are doing to counter the insurgency and to train local forces.
Our leadership here obviously is something to be proud of as Australians. The way in which this area works, our combined team works will continue as it would have. But Australians will be in the lead and I think that’s something we can be proud of.
JOURNALIST: And there’s been obviously a recent big loss of life for Australians on one single day. What do you say to people at home who say we just shouldn’t be here anymore at all and it isn’t worth it?
PM: I’d say firstly, I come and get the opportunity, and it’s a wonderful privilege, but I get to come here and see this part of the world through the eyes of our military personnel who are working here and they tell me we are making progress.
I also get an incredible insight from the families of those deceased soldiers and they say to me without exception that we best honour the memory of their loved one by seeing the mission through. They are unbelievably strong people and they make that point very forcefully.
JOURNALIST: Did you find the – you said the morale of troops was good – but did you find people have been knocked about by those losses or do they feel that the sacrifices are worth it and they are looking to the future more positively?
PM: When I attend the funerals of soldiers you not only get to meet their family, you get to meet some of their mates, mates that they fought alongside. You get to meet their commanding officers. And of course, to lose a mate – particularly to lose a mate in an insider attack – is a devastating experience for those people. And there is a lot of grief.
But it is also an incredible strength of our ADF that they overcome that grief and they get out there and do the job again. And that one of the ways in which they feel they best honour their mate is by getting out there and doing the job.
So it’s an incredibly strong defence culture. It makes me remarkably proud. Just in fact, should all blow us away, the strength of these people, often very young people.
JOURNALIST: What sort of things did they talk to you about here tonight?
PM: They talked to me about one bloke’s birthday, one got me to make a little video because his brother is getting married today, so he wanted me to say hello to his brother who is getting married.
I heard all about the band that plays on Thursday nights and now has put together a CD that is raising money for Legacy.
At the same time I asked people how they are going, how they are seeing things, how they’re experiencing transition, what they are hoping to do when they get back home. So a lot of just very human exchanges, and a lot of photographs.
Okay, thank you very much.